Fergie's selection headache
PLAN A was dumped into the Old Trafford shredder on Sunday and Sir Alex Ferguson's Carling Cup derby Plan B was put swiftly into operation. United's dreadful effort against Leeds in their shock FA Cup third round exit has cost some players their place in the first leg of the Manchester League Cup showdown. So who will feel the sharp edge of Fergie's axe in the wake of Sunday's humiliation? And who will the Reds boss turn to to avoid a New Year quad quest turning into a two-trophy assault? If you look through our forum, or listened to the debate raging in most United pubs after the Leeds capitulation, you would have thought Fergie doesn't have anyone fit to wear the shirt at Eastlands. Yes, United are flirting with a potential crisis in the making but they don't do knee-jerk reactions at Carrington and there will be no mass exodus and probably no imports either. While the fans have justifiably had their say, in the wake of Fergie's post-match rant on Sunday it will, no doubt, be all calm as he prepares to launch the fightback against the Blues. But the Reds boss has stated that some who were destined to play on Wednesday night have now blown their chance and will be spectators instead. Gabriel Obertan earned impressive reviews in October and November with some eye-catching cameos when coming off the subs bench. Obertan struggle But the French winger flopped against Leeds and hardly troubled their 32-year-old Stockport-born left back Andy Hughes. Darron Gibson's blockbusting shooting was a striking feature of the Reds' progress in early December and his two goals against Spurs set up the semi-final showdown with City. It looked like the 22-year-old Irishman finally had his foot in the senior door. But Sunday may have slammed it temporarily shut again. Mancunian Danny Welbeck was in United's Wembley XI for their Carling Cup final victory last March and has, so far, played in every round this term. However, being given a left wing berth against Leeds did the Longsight-born striker no favours and his confidence looked damaged to the point where pitching a down in the dumps teenager into a vital cup semi is probably unwise. Brazilian left back Fabio suffered the pain of a red card in the Carling Cup opener against Wolves and could be facing more agony when the City line-up is announced as the exciting South American was a tame passenger against Leeds. While Anderson was arguably one of United's better players in the FA Cup humiliation, the fact is the Brazilian has not really built on his impressive form during in his first season at Old Trafford and against Roberto Mancini's experienced engine room might find he too is a spectator at Eastlands. Of the older players who failed miserably to avert a giant-killing, captain Gary Neville is probably the one most at risk. His experience might be vital in such a high-profile game but his display against Leeds didn't suggest that bonus outweighed his sluggish current form. Rafael boasts more experience than his twin and has performed well in big matches so the derby wouldn't faze him as he proved last term at Eastlands and he could well come in for the veteran skipper. With the Reds' big guns set to be rolled out, arguably its also high time that, to avoid further damage to United's season, Fergie started fielding his best XI every week. United irritation The United manager's tinkering has become a major source of irritation among sections of the Old Trafford support. Indeed, Sunday was the 99th time on the trot the Scot had changed his team selection. Of course, some of the alterations have been forced on him by circumstance, but much has been of his own volition in a bid to guard against potential late season burn-out. However, with the FA Cup no longer on the calendar, two weekends have been freed up with United now not in action on January 23 and February 13. With a fixture pile-up and a clogged late winter programme now considerably eased, Fergie's first choices shouldn't have any problem coping with their upcoming schedule. As it stands, Fergie is still probably four players short of having his first choice line-up on call. Edwin van der Sar, John O'Shea, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic would occupy four of the five defensive places under normal circumstances, along with Patrice Evra. The latter will certainly be now inked onto the team sheet to face the Blues with Wes Brown and Jonny Evans likely to remain together as the strongest available centre back pairing should Vidic's nerve problem fail to improve. With the premise of a young engine room now surely ditched, Antonio Valencia, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and, probably, Ryan Giggs could be charged with securing a decent result to bring back to Old Trafford for the second leg on Tuesday, January 19. Up-front is the one area of late where Fergie and his management team have decided on a consistent selection. The Wayne Rooney-Dimitar Berbatov axis has started the last three matches and though it successfully yielded a goal apiece against Hull and Wigan, the partnership flopped miserably against Leeds. As a consequence, the debate over the value to the Reds of £30.75m club record buy Berbatov is raging again with the Bulgarian once more coming under heavy fire. However, Michael Owen has not been able to present a substantial case to be handed a run in the side. The World Cup hopeful, though, does deserve sympathy for the fact that since his Champions League hat-trick in Wolfsburg a month ago, he has started only one match at Fulham and played just 153 minutes out of a possible 540. Against that background, it's unlikely he will start against City, no matter how badly the Rooney and Berbatov partnership mis-fired on Sunday. If that stronger line-up can do the business against City then surely, until those defenders return, it has to be the team Fergie runs with. However, if it fails to perform again then United really will a crisis on their hands. Who should United select against City? Have your say.
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